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Archive for Monday, July 16, 2007

Stewart halts 20-race skid in Chicago

Tumultuous week ends with Nextel Cup victory

July 16, 2007

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— Tony Stewart is a winner again.

Stewart won the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, breaking a 20-race winless streak that dated to last season and turning around what had otherwise been a tumultuous week for the two-time series champion.

Between the bad breaks that cost him possible victories earlier in the year and this week's high-profile feud with Denny Hamlin, Stewart seemed more relieved than elated by the victory - though he still managed to climb the frontstretch fence in celebration.

The Nextel Cup series is off next weekend, and Stewart can't wait.

"I'm taking this momentum on vacation," Stewart said. "I've got a case of Schlitz that I fully intend on getting to the bottom of the cardboard box tonight, even if have to do it by myself."

Hamlin and Stewart spent the week trading barbs in the media after the two teammates wrecked at Daytona International Speedway last week.

The situation became ugly enough for team owner Joe Gibbs to take a last-minute detour from a planned vacation and come to the track on Saturday to gather Stewart and Hamlin for a hastily arranged meeting of the drivers.

"It was a great meeting. That's Joe Gibbs' strength, he knows how to motivate people and he knows how to keep a team atmosphere," Stewart said.

Stewart's strongest competitor, Jimmie Johnson, hit the wall with 45 laps remaining after his tire suddenly went flat.

Johnson walked away without any serious injuries beyond a sore elbow, but it left his car mangled and ruined his chance at a victory.

Matt Kenseth pulled side-by-side to challenge Stewart on the restart, but Stewart held him off until another caution flag came out for a crash by J.J. Yeley - the third Gibbs driver - 20 laps later.

Kenseth said that was his only real chance to get past Stewart - but he nearly lost control of his car while making the move and backed off to finish second.

Kenseth held off a charge from teammate Carl Edwards to finish second. Edwards finished third, followed by Kevin Harvick and pole-sitter Casey Mears.

The day belonged to Stewart, whose last victory came Nov. 5, 2006, at Texas Motor Speedway.

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